Monday, January 26, 2009

Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus, Jan. 19, Jack Rabbits

Multiply literate existential anarchists Titus Andronicus, from New Jersey, could be the bar band in a Thomas Pynchon novel. At Jack Rabbits in Jacksonville, Patrick Stickles perched above the rest of the band, impassioned channeler of the songs, more medium than singer. It's the only way I can explain his remarkable range of vocal influences, from Lou Reed to Replacement's Westerberg to Clash's Strummer to Pogue's MacGowan, though he's slight and jerks around sometimes as though possessed by Ian Curtis. The band lays a storied sonic tapestry underneath Stickle's voice, woven through with rich influences from sock-hop and surf-rock, classic punk, jig and dirge, grunge and 90's indie, even the Boss. Two of them have literature degrees, but, while allusions from Brueghel (clearly Auden's) to Hunter S. Thompson and Albert Camus to Cormac McCarthy punctuate their work, they're working class scholars and know that when the revolution comes, they'll attack the ivory tower first. That is, their songs are accessible and ironically intelligent anthems for the meaninglessness of life, which I suppose boys from the New Jersey suburbs know more about than the rest of us. The pinaccle for me was "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ," as Stickle hammered out a long closing jig crescendoing into collapse and a bleating recorded reading from the darkest passage of the bloodiest Shakespeare play. Fuck this description, which is just lists and lame comparisons. If you like nothing, you will love Titus Andronicus.

Envoi: After the Los Campesinos! finished, while fans milled about groveling for autographs and conversation (myself included), Patrick started playing around with Los Campesinos!' glockenspiel, fascinated, picking out a melody, utterly absorbed. Perfect.

Los Campesinos! followed with a strong and strikingly upbeat set (despite the absence of ill Harriet [get well] and her violin), but certainly not diminished in enthusiasm or dancibility. They're difficult to describe, but think Toy Dolls backed by Arcade Fire (on nitrous oxide) singing songs Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux might have composed chronicling their various beautiful dissipated difficulties and darknesses. LC! threw out their ironically, clashingly upbeat symphonic tight pop in all its exuberantly desperate yearning. No matter how fucked up the situations in the songs, it's hard to be sad when you're dancing, and everyone was, from the "classics" like "Death to Los Campesinos!" through the new songs dealing with love and loss and the sad, shitty state of the world we're all slogging through. I especially enjoyed the "Box Elder" intro into one of their songs. Which one? I can't recall, but we should all be happy that, as the title song posits, "WE KID OURSELVES THERE'S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING, BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE." And we collectively were, carried by Garreth's bright cheery vocals and Aleksandra's Elizabeth Elmore-ish countervocals and the band's perfectly timed chaos and even that one girl on the dance floor who never, ever stopped dancing.

After the lights came on, the band hung out and chatted and signed merch. Garreth is personable, charming, and as cheerful as the band sounds. Aleksandra is absolutely lovely and a bit shy (I mentioned my fondness for Elizabeth Elmore's Sarge and The Reputation). Tom, lead guitar and song writer, turned out to be a fellow Califone fan, so we had that, you know, irritating to anyone not in the know, whole nerd fan conversation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stuck in the Office

It's raining outside and I'm stuck in my office, so I'll make the most of it by writing my first blog of the year, two days before Obama takes office and even as the sigh of national relief begins its slow release, not toward rest, but to regather for the hard work ahead--so much damage to undo, more than we even know of, no doubt. Expectations are high, but I'm just hoping he can crash land this mother like Sully into the Hudson. Extracting the tendrils of incompetence (i.e. ideological hires in career positions) from so many institutions is going to prove tricky, at best, but here's to hoping for the best. But he can change the American ethos.

Two of the members of my Harlem Renaissance class are attending, and they will offer their first-hand accounts in class. It's a good time to be teaching a Harlem Renaissance class with its theme of liberation and free expression in the face of a nation besotted so long in bigotry and lynching. Harlem in the twenties offered hope through literature, art, and music that carries through all of this, and so, as the music plays and as Elizabeth Alexander reads her poems this week, I have to think those early voices speaking out, those humanizing voices, have finally won their argument.